SBS Tournament of Champions: Walker out to early lead

PGA champion ahead by two shots after first-round 65 at Kapalua Plantation Course

Jimmy Walker follows the flight of his drive off the first tee Thursday during the first round of the SBS Tournament of Champions at the Kapalua Plantation Course. Walker fired an 8-under-par 65 to take a two-shot lead. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Jimmy Walker follows the flight of his drive off the first tee Thursday during the first round of the SBS Tournament of Champions at the Kapalua Plantation Course. Walker fired an 8-under-par 65 to take a two-shot lead. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

KAPALUA — Jimmy Walker arrived at the Kapalua Plantation Course in 2014 as the FedEx Cup leader. He went home from his first event on Maui with a tie for 21st place.

Oh, how times have changed for Walker, who will celebrate his 38th birthday in 10 days.

The world’s 21st-ranked golfer walked off the 18th hole on Thursday as the leader of the SBS Tournament of Champions, two strokes clear of the field after an 8-under-par 65.

Walker has six tour wins, all since 2013, including the 2016 PGA Championship.

“A lot of great memories of golf, a lot of wins, a major championship, a lot of experience,” Walker said of the last three-plus years. “I feel different, I feel like I’m part of the top level of golf now. It’s been a great ride and I think it’s just getting going, too, so I’m excited.”

Jim Herman discusses the grain on the 17th green with his caddie Thursday during the first round of the SBS Tournament of Champions at the Kapalua Plantation Course. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Jim Herman discusses the grain on the 17th green with his caddie Thursday during the first round of the SBS Tournament of Champions at the Kapalua Plantation Course. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Jim Herman, a 39-year-old former assistant club professional at Trump National Bedminster in New Jersey, was tied for second place with at 67 with Justin Thomas and Ryan Moore.

Being a major champion is something new for Walker, who won the Sony Open at Waialae Country Club on Oahu in 2014 and 2015.

“There was a lot to deal with right afterwards, I played some tournaments I probably shouldn’t have,” he said. “I felt like I had a decent (FedEx Cup) playoffs. I had a third place alone at Deutsche Bank, I played pretty good the next week at the BMW. The Tour Championship was OK and then I played well at the Ryder Cup and then mentally I was kind of done after that.”

Walker, who lost a playoff to Patrick Reed here in 2015 and finished tied for 10th last year, wants to put Maui on his schedule as many times as possible.

“I enjoy being here, I love the scenery, I’m a very visual person, so I enjoy looking, I love watching the whales,” he said. “Walking around, it’s just a pretty place. The food is great, everybody’s in a good mood. I love stepping off the plane — the air’s just awesome. There’s something, just something does it for me here.”

A golf bag bearing the name of the late Gary Planos sits on the first tee. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

A golf bag bearing the name of the late Gary Planos sits on the first tee. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Herman played the Plantation Course in 2005 with rental clubs while on his honeymoon.

“Did I ever think I would be here at that time, 2005?” said Herman, who played a round of golf with president-elect Donald Trump two days before Christmas. “This is a long way from there, 12 years. I’d like to say that I always believed it but it’s a pretty long way from being assistant pro to a tournament winner on the PGA Tour. Obviously it’s attainable and I hope everyone that’s out there grinding and trying knows that they can do it; if I did it, anybody can.”

Thomas was impressed with Kapalua’s 7,452-yard, par-73 layout.

“You can see the ocean from about every hole, and it’s a great golf course,” he said. “You know, small field, we’re out in twosomes, just kind of zipping around. Other than the fact that this is the hardest walk I think I’ll ever play in golf, there’s nothing really to complain about.”

Daniel Berger and Jason Dufner were tied for fifth at 68.

Patrick Reed chips to the 14th green. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Patrick Reed chips to the 14th green. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

“I had some time off from the end of last year for me,” Dufner said. “So to come out bogey-free, had some good weather today, not too windy, no rain. So it was nice to be here.”

Berger said the next three days could be interesting. Only three players in the field of 32 shot over par.

“I prepared really well for this event and have got off to a good start and just hang in there and see what happens,” Berger said.

World No. 1 Jason Day is tied for 12th at 70. He had three birdies from Nos. 13 to 16, but bogeyed the final hole. Day was playing his first tournament in more than three months as he recovered from a back injury.

“Obviously the way everything finished last year was a little bit disappointing,” Day said. “I understand that I need to make sure that I need to take care of myself. Obviously out here longevity is obviously key to the career, and I had to do the right thing and take some time off.

Justin Thomas tees off on the first hole. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Justin Thomas tees off on the first hole. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

“But standing on the tee, I was a little nervous. I haven’t stood on a tee for three months. It’s a long time.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

PGA SBS Tournament of Champions

Thursday’s First Round

At Kapalua Plantation Course

Jordan Spieth points out a humpback whale swimming offshore as he and playing partner Dustin Johnson wait to start their round. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Jordan Spieth points out a humpback whale swimming offshore as he and playing partner Dustin Johnson wait to start their round. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Jimmy Walker            31-34–65    -8

Jim Herman                32-35–67    -6

Justin Thomas            34-33–67    -6

Ryan Moore                31-36–67    -6

Daniel Berger            31-37–68    -5

Jason Dufner            34-34–68    -5

Cody Gribble            33-36–69    -4

Rod Pampling            35-34–69    -4

Pat Perez                34-35–69    -4

Hideki Matsuyama        34-35–69    -4

Dustin Johnson            34-35–69    -4

Aaron Baddeley        34-36–70    -3

Tony Finau                36-34–70    -3

Fabian Gomez            34-36–70    -3

William McGirt            35-35–70    -3

Brandt Snedeker        34-36–70    -3

Patrick Reed            35-35–70    -3

Jason Day                34-36–70    -3

Greg Chalmers            35-36–71    -2

Charley Hoffman        34-37–71    -2

Russell Knox            34-37–71    -2

Vaughn Taylor            35-37–72    -1

Brendan Steele            34-38–72    -1

Brian Stuard                38-34–72    -1

Jhonattan Vegas        37-35–72    -1

Bubba Watson            35-37–72    -1

Jordan Spieth            34-38–72    -1

Mackenzie Hughes    36-37–73    E

Branden Grace            35-38–73    E

Billy Hurley III            36-38–74    +1

James Hahn                38-36–74    +1

Si Woo Kim                36-39–75    +2

Today’s Second-Round

Tee Times

10:20 a.m.–James Hahn, Si Woo Kim.

10:30 a.m.–Branden Grace, Billy Hurley III.

10:40 a.m.–Jordan Spieth, Mackenzie Hughes.

10:50 a.m.–Jhonattan Vegas, Bubba Watson.

11 a.m.–Brendan Steele, Brian Stuard.

11:10 a.m.–Russell Knox, Vaughn Taylor.

11:20 a.m.–Greg Chalmers, Charley Hoffman.

11:30 a.m.–Patrick Reed, Jason Day.

11:40 a.m.–William McGirt, Brandt Snedeker.

11:50 a.m.–Tony Finau, Fabian Gomez.

Noon–Dustin Johnson, Aaron Baddeley.

12:10 p.m.–Pat Perez, Hideki Matsuyama.

12:20 p.m.–Cody Gribble, Rod Pampling.

12:30 p.m.–Daniel Berger, Jason Dufner.

12:40 p.m.–Justin Thomas, Ryan Moore.

12:50 p.m.–Jimmy Walker, Jim Herman.

Bubba Watson takes a drop on the ninth hole. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Bubba Watson takes a drop on the ninth hole. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

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